Amy Garvey, author of the recently-reviewed Cold Kiss, was awesome enough to contribute a guest post. She tackles the elements of horror and why it’s the psychological stuff you’ve got to watch out for!
A couple of years ago I realized something: my go-to, comfort-watch movies had changed. Sure, once in a while I still need to pop in the classics like The Princess Bride or Young Frankenstein or This Is Spinal Tap, but the romantic comedies I used to love? They’d been replaced with … the remake of Dawn of the Dead. 28 Days Later. Angel Heart. Jennifer’s Body.
I’d become a horror junkie.
Which really isn’t that unusual. As a kid, I ate up The Munsters and The Addams Family, and all my favorite books had ghosts in them. My first YA novel, Cold Kiss, is about a girl bringing her boyfriend back from the dead. Not exactly puppies and rainbows and cupcakes.
But horror has a lot of definitions. Merriam Webster says: painful and intense fear, dread, or dismay. And that can mean so many things, not all of them (not even most of them, really) soaked in blood or torn flesh.
Supernatural is a horror series. (Supernatural has also, somehow, nearly surpassed my obsession with and faithful love for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, so if you sense a little evangelism in this piece, fair warning.) It has all the earmarks: a demon kills Sam and Dean Winchester’s mother before they’re even school-aged, and their father embarks on a lifelong journey of vengeance, dragging the boys along as he searches for the demon responsible, and killing all kinds of evil creatures in the meantime.
The first season alone featured a wendigo, three urban legends, vampires, a reaper, a shapeshifter, and, of course, demons. Naturally, there was also blood, deliciously gory slayings, haunted houses, creepy noises, and more blood. But that’s not really the heart of the horror on this show, for me.
I know that sounds like I missed the boat completely. But for me, the most horrific moments in this show don’t come from the sometimes sketchy special effects (this is the CW, folks) or the monsters bumping around in the night. It’s the pure horror of your worst fears actually walking into the room, lethal and smiling, wearing the face of someone you worship. Of realizing that your whole life was a lie, that your choices were all illusions. That the devil wants to wear your body like a prom dress while he’s destroying the world. That you might actually be capable of torture when you’re pushed (well, flayed and carved and smashed) against the wall. That you’ll kill one of your only friends in the world to get back someone you love.
That’s what fascinates me. About Supernatural, as well as most good horror. Not the moments when blood splatters against the wall or the creature crawls out of the darkness. It’s why horror has persisted since pretty much forever. Human beings cling to what they love, and have an almost morbid need to explore what they fear, if only to be prepared for it. And so often horror is born out of love—when clinging to that person that means everything to you erodes rationality, and you realize you’re selling your sell to keep someone with you, or burying your dead child in the evil cemetery, or letting your best friend eat boys because you can’t imagine life without her.
That’s what happens to Wren in Cold Kiss. There’s no gore, no creature—just the pure horror of realizing that she’s turned the boy she loved most into a sickly, undead shadow of himself. Sam and Dean? All they have is each other in a world crawling with evil, most of it determined to rip them limb from limb on any given day. The things they do to save each other, or themselves, much less the world, are born out of a love that’s all they have left to survive.
Grim, I know. But never, ever boring.